With the manifestos out, part three of our election analysis series examines pledges for a sector that has never been higher up the political agenda

Farming and food production, alongside the many issues plaguing the sector, have arguably never been as high up the political agenda as during the past year.

Headline-grabbing farmer protests across the UK in 2024 have put the spotlight on issues such as low returns, food security and the imposition of sustainable farming policies.

With the farming sector also suffering the ongoing effects of inflation, Brexit and the wettest 12 months since the days of Queen Victoria, it is why prime minister Rishi Sunak held the government’s second annual food and farming summit last month. That came alongside a series of farming-focused policies announced just before the general election was called.

And it’s also why all three main UK political parties pledged variations on a message of support for the farming sector as they unveiled their long-awaited manifestos this week.

The trio all stress they recognise ‘food security is national security’. They’ve set targets of half of all food across the public sector to be locally produced or sourced to the same standards as the UK’s.

But there are some significant differences in their pledges for the sector, too.

Only the Tory manifesto, for example, explicitly pledges “legally binding” targets to enhance food security. It is linked to the government’s announcement in February of an annual food security review and an accompanying food security index, and was a key ask of NFU president Tom Bradshaw’s in the wake of the No 10 summit.

The Grocer understands the Liberal Democrats support similar food security targets to the Tories, though they are not explicitly set out in its manifesto.

So, what else do the parties have in store for food production?


Ahead of the publication of the party’s manifesto on Thursday, Labour leader Keir Starmer promised there would be “no surprises” as part of his pitch to offer stability to voters.

And when the manifesto finally arrived, Starmer – who was introduced by Iceland executive chair and recent Tory defector Richard Walker – said Labour “doesn’t have a magic wand” but did have “a credible, long-term plan”.

But despite the party’s promise to be a “pro-business and pro-worker” government, many in the food sector may well be disappointed by a continuing lack of detail when it comes to food and farming policy.

Labour has been touting its “new deal for farmers” and a pledge to “cut red tape” since last year, but the manifesto document largely plays it safe, echoing earlier pledges such as introducing a “land-use framework” and making “environment land management schemes (ELMS) work for farmers and nature”.

Keir Starmer NFU

Source: NFU

How it intends to do this is less clear, though the party has also promised to improve animal welfare and “help tackle the cost of food” by renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU – another pledge Starmer’s team has been pushing for over a year.

Where it is clearer, however, is in its desire to protect the environment. It pledges to accelerate tree-planting, ban bee-harming pesticides and promote regenerative farming and nature recovery, while reforming the post-Brexit ELMS.

But again, real detail on how this will be achieved is absent. And in a manifesto document totalling 136 pages, the word ‘farm’ is mentioned only five times, while ‘food’ is mentioned eight times.

On migration and skills, Labour argues “our economy has become overly dependent on workers from abroad to fill skills shortages”, and warns it “will not tolerate employers or recruitment agencies abusing the visa system”.

It has also pledged to reform the points-based immigration system and reduce net migration – which could have implications for some of the food sector’s chronically short-staffed areas.

In response to the manifesto’s unveiling, the NFU points out there is “no mention” of an agriculture budget in the Labour manifesto – an oversight described as “deeply disappointing” by Tom Bradshaw.  

“This isn’t just ‘money for farmers’, it’s the funding which helps the sector transition away from the old EU system, allows farm businesses to invest for the future and makes governments’ aims around sustainable food production, food security, the environment and net zero possible,” Bradshaw says.

“It’s funding to help underpin the UK’s largest manufacturing sector – food and drink – which contributes more than £128bn to the national economy and provides jobs for four million people.”


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The Tory manifesto takes aim at Labour’s record on farming in Wales. That includes its now-delayed Sustainable Farming Scheme, which calls on farmers to set aside 10% of agricultural land to tree planting and a further 10% to wildlife habitats.

The “top-down” scheme – which prompted thousands of farmers to mount a series of protests this spring – shows Labour “will never be on the side of the farming community”, the party argues. It says the initiative denies farmers the flexibility “they need to achieve environmental goals in ways that work for them”.

As a counterpoint, the Tory manifesto promises to establish binding food security targets, linked to the government’s establishment of a food security index. How it will reach these targets, though, is unclear, given the parlous state of the sector and the need to work in the context of devolved farming policy.

And unlike Labour’s manifesto, the document, unveiled by Sunak on Tuesday, also commits to a £1bn increase in the UK-wide farming budget to £3.5bn a year.

Rishi Sunak Number 10 Farm to Fork Summit

Source: Number 10 Downing St

This addresses concerns of the likes of the NFU’s Tom Bradshaw last month that previously announced Tory commitments, such as £80m for the horticulture sector and £50m for an automation fund, would only “spread the farming budget more thinly” – though Bradshaw has called for an even bigger rise to £5.5bn.

The Tories stress that half of England’s farmers have now signed up to the latest iteration of what it is describing as a successful ELMS. The manifesto also announces the creation of a £20m farming innovation fund and planning reform to help farming businesses grow (as do Labour and the Lib Dems’ pre-election commitments).

Elsewhere, it also clarifies the government’s recently-announced five-year Seasonal Worker visa scheme is a “tapered” arrangement. It sets out a clear aim to wean the sector off migrant workers and to build skills among UK workers instead – feeding into the wider manifesto narrative of the need to slash immigration.

The fishing sector will also receive a further £100m UK Seafood fund, the Tories say. This will be used to “invest in harbour and fish market upgrades, provide new equipment and technology for fish processing or to support our growing aquaculture sector”, with a focus on SMEs.


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Liberal Democrats

Ed Davey’s Lib Dem manifesto is the only document from the three main parties to call for a “strengthening of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, to protect consumers from unfair price rises and support producers”.

The plan extends to a desire to merge the GCA with the government’s new Agricultural Supply Chain Adjudicator.

Ed Davey

Source: Liberal Democrats/Flickr

Ex-NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts, who is standing for the Lib Dems in the Mid Bedfordshire constituency, describes the current structure as “unfair” to producers.

“We need to look further down the supply chain” and not just at the transactions between suppliers and retailers that currently answer to the GCA, Roberts told The Grocer this week.

Roberts revealed the Lib Dems also want to establish food security targets like the Tories. In another similarity, the party plans to boost the agricultural budget by £1bn.

As part of its proposals to “give farmers and fishers a fair deal”, it is calling for investment in local infrastructure such as small abattoirs and a renegotiation of trade deals with the likes of Australia and New Zealand.

Local authorities would get greater powers and resources to inspect and monitor food production, says the party, which calls for a new animal welfare bill “to ensure the highest standards possible” and “clear-to-understand” food labelling.


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Other GB parties

At the time of writing, the Scottish National Party manifesto was yet to be published, however, it has said it wants to double Scotland’s land use for organic farming – and double the amount of organic produce that comes from Scotland, with (again) a focus on more of it being used in public sector food procurement.

Plaid Cymru’s manifesto calls for “fairness for farmers” and is calling for a veto for Wales over future trade deals that “undermine Welsh agricultural communities”. It has opposed Labour’s Sustainable Farming scheme in the Senedd and says it supports a beefing up of the GCA.

Additionally, Plaid has called for food labelling “that acaccurately reflects country of origin, allowing consumers to choose food that is ‘Welsh’ and not just ‘British’ so that they can make an informed choice”. The party is also in favour of increasing immigration, and will “demand” amendments to the Shortage Occupation List “to ensure primary producers in Wales have access to the workforce required to support the industry”.

Nigel Farage’s Reform UK calls for an increase in the farming budget to £3 billion, with a focus on smaller farms and “bringing young people into farming”.

It also calls for the scrapping of climate-related farming subsidies a cut to red tape and a 75% public procurement target for British food. This would help it hit a self-sufficiency target of 70%, it argues. In fishing, Reform UK wants to end automatic access to UK waters as part of a plan revive the sector.

The Green Party manifesto, meanwhile, pushes for financial support for farmers “to be almost tripled to support their transition to nature-friendly farming”. Farm payments also need to be linked to the reduced use of pesticides and other agro-chemicals, it argues.

With promises made, the question remaining is whose will be put to the test.